So, this post is inspired by my most recent trip, my daughter, and by Christopher Danielson. We just returned from a trip to Pittsburgh to see my beloved Mets defeat the hometown Pirates. While on the road my impatient daughter is often asking how much farther we have to travel. Since I don’t imagine that she understands answers such as “28 more miles honey” (she will turn 4 on Thursday) I often answer by saying things like “only 20 more minutes, about the sam time as an episode of PowerPuff Girls”. So, when we were at the pool at a hotel on our trip we were playing a jumping game where she stood on the steps of the pool and jumped to my arms. One time I was too close for her tastes so she told me to back up. When I asked her how far away I should be, she said “Five minutes away.” I asked her, “Don’t you mean five feet away?” But she stood firm in her answer, she wanted me five minutes away from her. Christopher routinely writes about his children’s developing understandings of mathematics and, while I teach in the high school, it has made me more conscious of trying to get at what my students think that they understand about developing situations in the classroom. As a dad, these thoughts intrude as well. I am now debating my use of time as a marker for her, although I am certain that it is a more tangible way to answer her questions about how far away we are from our destination.
My oldest (Caleb) is about two months younger than your daughter (he’ll be four at the end of September). I find myself almost exclusively using time to answer his “how long, how far” questions (though many of these questions could easily be answered with a distance-style reply). I never thought about the impact that might have on later thoughts of his until reading your pool story. Maybe one solution for us dads of little ones would be to answer with two pieces of information (at least in the car): “We have about 25 miles to go, so we’ll be there in about 40 minutes.” Not sure what exactly that will spark inside of Caleb’s brain, but I’m curious to try.
One other thought… You do what I think every parent and older sibling does: use a familiar time reference (the length of a PowerPuff episode; for my youngest sister Full House featured heavily on our answers to her “are we there yet” questions). What would happen if we tried something similar with distance? Instead of 30 miles, full stop, it might be “30 miles, the same as driving to grandma and grandpa’s five times.” Though now my head is spinning a bit, so I think this comment deserves a full stop.